I’ve written about Henri Matisse before. I have a bizarre fascination with his work. In some ways, I don’t like his paintings. They’re too loud, too bold, to bright for my sensitive artistic palate. They tend to leave a bad aftertaste in my mouth. Why I’m coming up with food analogies is beyond me. As I write, I tend to just blurt out whatever is in my head.
While I don’t care a lot for Matisse’s colorful fauvist style, I enjoy reading about him, thinking of the many different things he’s had to say about art and life. It was Matisse, you might recall, who bolstered our resolve by reminding us that “creativity takes courage.” It was also Matisse who suggested that “Would it not be best to leave room to mystery?”
I visited with Matisse — quite imaginatively, you understand, since he died in 1954 — this morning while playing with my design principles. My study today was all about unity, about harmony, about creating compositions where different elements work together. I was delighted when I came across a work of his that exemplifies the principle of unity.
This work was created in 1946. A bit like what I’ve been doing with my shapes cut from paper, Matisse used various shapes and set them against a background done with gouache.
Unity is created by the continuous blue grid that acts as a background to the other shapes. The sense of unity is added to by the seaweed shapes that join together forming a continuous border round the outside of the composition. — Bitesize
I suppose I like this artwork more than some of his others because I like the colors he used. Of course what I really liked was the idea that my own simple design studies shared something in common with this famous artist. My shapes aren’t elaborate. I’m using simple squares and triangles, a few organic shapes. Nothing so carefully designed and cut as the fishes and birds and all the seaweed in Matisse’s lovely and playful piece.
All the same, it was fun to imagine myself working beside Henri — and listening to him talk as I placed my simple shapes here and there on a sheet of paper. I came up with a very simple illustration of harmony. I created mine simply through use of pattern. Each piece I selected has the same pattern as every other piece.
I feel it’s a bit off-balance with all that extra white space at the top, but Matisse shrugged and said “Maybe that can be the mystery. What’s up there that we can’t see?”
Matisse said actually something else that was truly useful for my playtime today.
The entire arrangement of my pictures is expressive; the place occupied by the figures, the empty spaces around them, the proportions, everything has its share. – Henri Matisse
This is what unity is all about. It works with bits and pieces, yet it puts them together in such a way that the entire arrangement is expressive. Everything works together. Everything has a place and a purpose.
I adore Matisse for his imagination. Even if I don’t care for his bold use of color, I have to admire him for creating his art in his way. And I love him for his playful spirit. This is a man who — much like me blurting out whatever is on my mind — spoke his own truth.
And so I leave you with my favorite Matisse quote:
“I wouldn’t mind turning into a vermillion goldfish.”